Orthodox Christianity can rightly say that it has retained the fullness of the original, historical, ancient Christian Church – from the time when there was only one Christian Church without denominations. While the Church’s original theological fullness is remarkable, the executive leaders of the various Orthodox Christian jurisdictions (Greek, Russian, etc.) appear to sometimes neglect the scriptural teachings to avoid controversies (Titus 3:9), and to be men that wisely fulfill the heavy obligations of their sacred office (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-16, 1 Corinthians 11:1-2, Acts 14:23). Rather than pursuing “one mind” the result of their particular focus seems to have fostered division. Now more than ever, especially with Great Lent approaching, we need prayer and fasting, asking our Lord to heal us and revitalize our efforts to proclaim His Gospel, rather than unintentionally undermine it.
Fortunately, there are many good examples of Churches that appear to be doing a great job at proclaiming the Gospel and bringing the transformative Good News into the lives of all. The Baltimore Sun once had an inspiring article (June 24, 2017) entitled “Conversions gradually transforming Orthodox Christianity” https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-non-greek-greek-orthodox-priest-20170624-story.html. But this and other many good examples are being overshadowed by controversies at the highest levels of the Church.
As we begin to look at the spectrum of scandals that “cumulatively” handicap the Church’s mission, sexual impropriety appears to have become commonplace. This recent controversy (December 2018) was touted by the New York Post. Although not as outrageously atypical as the Passias scandal that the Post previously published, the recent NY Post article discusses the allegations of two nuns regarding their “spiritual father” Gerasimos Makris, who was reinstated at a NY Parish. The article is found here: https://nypost.com/2018/12/08/long-island-nuns-push-for-change-amid-growing-churchtoo-movement/ . As if this were not enough, scandals continue at higher levels and serve only to scare the faithful, if not to demoralize them.
Add to the mix what Forbes calls an “(Un)Holy Alliance” of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, then bickering is soon to follow. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulcoyer/2015/05/21/unholy-alliance-vladimir-putin-and-the-russian-orthodox-church/#3b5ef1ff27d5
Where is the Gospel in all of this? Christianity Today wrote a simplistic but good article published on January 6th 2019 “From Russia, Without Love: Ukraine Marks Orthodox Christmas with Biggest Schism Since 1054” ( https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/january/ukrainian-russian-orthodox-church-schism-autocephaly.html). In this article, the relations amongst our executive leaders are embarrassingly not sterling. The New York Times article “The Orthodox Schism and the Spiritual Limits of Politics” (10/19/2018 Nikos Konstandaras) also highlights how this rift will send negative consequences throughout the Ukraine, Russia, and Greece. The National Herald states that this will adversely affect us in the United States also. According to a February 7th 2019 article by Theodore Kalmoukos, (https://www.thenationalherald.com/229430/ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-said-to-plan-reorganization-of-three-archdioceses/ ) , the last paragraph states that one of the jurisdictions of the Russian Church will now start using Greek in its liturgies as it spawns new communities in the USA (the innuendo being it is to attract parishioners, much like Burger King attempts to bring customers by building restaurants near McDonalds).
Articles like “Russian Orthodox Church Issues Warning to Orthodoxy’s Leader” https://religionnews.com/2018/09/28/russian-orthodox-church-issues-warning-to-orthodoxys-leader/ exacerbates the spirit of division and scandal that is unbecoming for a “tonsured monk” who should know better.
Why does it appear that the Russian Government is strongly supporting the Russian Church? Why is the Patriarch of Moscow so outspoken and even “threatening” toward the Ecumenical Patriarch, and even ordered that the Church there “stop” praying for the Ecumenical Patriarch? Are these moves part of an agenda to discredit the Ecumenical Patriarchal status of Constantinople in order to usurp it to Moscow? Such an expansionist agenda would need a great deal of money. With the Russian government collaborating with the Russian Church, this may be part of the picture.
The net effect, people will walk with their feet, and simply leave. It is no wonder that Peter S. Kehayes wrote a disturbing article on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s website (http://www.goarch.org) a few years ago that “60% of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90% of Americans with Greek roots are no longer in communion with the Church.” This is no longer on the site – it was removed! It is located here on We Are Orthodox in its entirety: http://www.weareorthodox.com/usersubmissions/An-Important-Challenge-for-Greek-Orthodox-Christianity.pdf . This is also found at the Pappas Post as well at https://www.pappaspost.com/90-of-americans-with-greek-roots-no-longer-in-communion-with-greek-orthodox-church/
When people go to Church, they want to commune with the Lord Jesus Christ. They typically seek like minded people that have moral and spiritual fiber. They want peace. When our executive leaders cannot get their act together, the consequences reverberate throughout the Church at every level.
With the beginning of Great Lent fast approaching, make a commitment to pray and fast, and commit to charitable acts of love. Make extra prayers for our Church. Fast a little more as you are able. No matter what the politics are – at any level – pray for our Church continually.
One person armed with truth is a majority. It may be our obligation to speak the truth – at least to state it once, not necessarily to argue it. Truth has its own innate power. It will rise to the top, as does cream. You may be the only person that can represent the Gospel to those around you. Be the voice of love and reason, even when our leaders do not always do.
Yianni Pappas, February 2019